THE BLOG
12/02/2016 06:49 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2017

Spurring Student Success Through Effective College Instruction

Co-authored by William D. Hansen, president and chief executive officer of USA Funds.

High-quality instruction has been the backbone of an American higher education system that remains the envy of the world. But how to measure effective teaching and gauge its impact on an ever more diverse population of students is vital if we are to dramatically increase the number of Americans able to earn a college degree.

That is why the American Council on Education (ACE) and USA Funds have launched a groundbreaking initiative to engage in cutting-edge research to examine higher education instruction and assess the connections between teaching quality and student success. Both of our organizations have long worked to create and implement student-centered, attainment-focused approaches and practices that lead to improved student outcomes and more timely postsecondary degree and credential completion.

For several decades, ACE has led the national dialogue on efforts to respond to the changing higher education landscape--providing quality assurance for college-level learning outside the classroom, promoting alternative education pathways, and working with institutions to create educational experiences and support systems that meet the needs of nontraditional students. This work aligns with USA Funds' goal of promoting innovation in the delivery of higher education and smoothing transitions at key junctures in the educational process to provide students a more purposeful path toward a postsecondary credential--and is an example of USA Funds' new direction in support of Completion With a Purpose®, which aims to enhance postsecondary education completion rates while also helping graduates more successfully launch into rewarding careers.

We are invested in researching the relationship between more effective pedagogical approaches that lead to improved student outcomes. It is our belief that individuals who embrace the most effective teaching practices are more likely to improve the student experience, and lead to increased student retention, persistence, and success. Institutions of higher education must leverage their unique assets--faculty expertise, educational technologies, and academic advising--to proactively design and implement ways to expand pedagogical training that prepares a greater number of faculty to positively affect the student experience in and out of the classroom.

We also recognize that more effective instruction might enhance institutional efficiency. Budgetary challenges facing higher education institutions have resulted in increased numbers of courses being taught by contingent faculty; these are individuals hired for their expert content knowledge but not necessarily for their teaching skills. Contingent faculty now represent 75 percent of postsecondary instructors, and this percentage is expected to increase each year for the foreseeable future.

Higher education in the United States comprises more than 4,000 diverse institutions--public and private universities, major research institutions, liberal arts colleges and community colleges--that serve millions of part-time and full-time, traditional and nontraditional learners. All of these institutions will continue to pursue their own unique missions, including determining how to prepare faculty to teach their respective student populations. But we also recognize the importance of developing benchmarks for quality, scalable faculty development solutions that will equip more faculty with enhanced pedagogical skills.

Our goal is simple yet ambitious.

Together, ACE and USA Funds want to prepare the academy for a postsecondary culture in which the importance of faculty development and preparedness goes beyond the traditional tenure-track or research model. We are striving to equip instructional faculty across this country with practices and techniques to support students through an improved holistic higher education experience that enhances learning and improves persistence and success.

Given what the research on students from underserved backgrounds has uncovered about the barriers they face in achieving credentials and degrees, we anticipate that our effort will have a disproportionately large and positive impact on students from underserved communities.

In short, this is a collaboration that has the potential to yield enormous benefits for all of American higher education. While there has been significant exploration about the importance of structural factors such as course pathways throughout an undergraduate curriculum, this research focuses on the most central endeavor of the academic enterprise--teaching and learning in individual courses and the impact that quality instruction can make on millions of students for generations to come.